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Bair Mail: On Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke and the future of the quarterback position, plus Zach Harrison and Clark Phillips III

We discuss Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke and whether the 2024 starting quarterback is on the roster right now in this Wednesday mailbag.

The Falcons have two games left in this regular season, with a chance to exceed the win total from the first two years of the Arthur Smith/Terry Fontenot regime.

That could well happen, with games against the Bears and Saints remaining.

They need the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to lose their last two and win out to have a shot at the NFC South, with a really outside shot at a wild card still remaining.

Y'all have an eye on the quarterback situation in the present and future, so we'll start there and eventually get to the early returns on the 2023 NFL Draft class in this Wednesday edition of Bair Mail.


Will Smith from Summerville, Ga.

Hi, Scott. Looks like the writing's on the wall for Ridder. If he is indeed gone does this mean the Falcons draft a QB in the first round this spring? Any scenario where Heinicke is QB1 next year? Trade for someone (Justin Fields)? How do you see the future of the position playing out? Thanks.

Bair: It's an interesting topic, Will, with a bunch of different options. The Falcons have Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke under contract next season. Ridder has two years left on his rookie deal. Heinicke has a $9 million cap number, with the prospect of saving $7 million with his release. That's a hefty sum for a second-string quarterback, but Heinicke should be considered A-list option at the backup position.

They could stand pat, but that doesn't seem like a given. In my opinion, it's hard to imagine the Falcons keeping both if they add another quarterback with premium assets.

That could be a high-priced free agent or trade acquisition, though I think it's more likely the Falcons look to draft one, possibly in the first round. In that situation, Heinicke might prove a worthy mentor and someone who can start if needed. Or, if he does great work over the last three games, Heinicke may motivate the Falcons to give him a longer look in the short- or slightly-longer term.

Or the Falcons could retain Ridder for way cheaper and let him compete with the new guy. He's also a smart, hard worker who could push the quarterback room. Those are both solid options to add competition to the mix.

I'm not sure the primary option at quarterback in 2024 is on currently on the roster, but the experienced options are there.

It will be interesting to see what the Falcons do at that spot. They'll surely study the options intently, especially in the draft, before making major decisions about the team's most important position.

Annie Flynn from Ooltewah, Tenn.

What I have is more a comment than a question Ridder is a rookie he needs time to screw up and learn look at manning and the way smith keeps treating the QBs is uncalled for you going to sit one on the bench leave him don't keep putting them in and pulling them that is not good for anything also we have too much talent to be such a low scoring team seems like we need a new coach or at least a new play caller.

Bair: Arthur Smith is on record saying he didn't want to play musical chairs at the quarterback position, and I truly believe that was his intention. I agree with you that sometimes experience and being allowed to work through mistakes is essential for quarterback development, but the Falcons head coach had an entire team to think about.

The Falcons were clinging to playoff hopes after losing consecutive games to Tampa Bay and Carolina, with virtually no margin for error. They couldn't afford the ill-timed turnovers that had become regular occurrences with Ridder at the helm. Smith may have waited too long to make the switch, but one had to be made. The Falcons needed Taylor Heinicke's experience and savviness in key moments, which played a huge role in a victory over Indianapolis.

That's why I believe multiple quarterback moves have been made. That's also why I think they were essential. That doesn't mean Ridder is done here in Atlanta, but I think another move had to be made. Odds seem slim that the Falcons will make the postseason though, with too many costly mistakes weighing their season down.

Jerry B from Cobbtown, Ga.

Hi Bair! Amna did an article about the evaluation of our 2023 draft class. Other than Robinson, which rookie do you see making the biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2. My guess and biggest surprise is Zach Harrison. I think we found a real diamond in the rough.

Bair: It's a good group overall, with the Falcons getting quality work from first-round running back Bijan Robinson and second-round guard Matt Bergeron.

Zach Harrison has been an interesting study, with a real uptick in production of late. We all know about the three sacks in the last two games, but he has getting more pressure over the last few games. I think a lot of that development comes from the regular defensive snaps as part of the defensive line's second unit. He has all the physical tools to be a quality NFL pro. He's on his way, I think, and could end up a key component of the defensive front.

I have been impressed by fourth-round cornerback Clark Phillips III, who has earned his opportunities opposite A.J. Terrell, with the real prospect that the Falcons see him as a realistic option at a starting spot. He's a solid cover man with an ability to make plays on the ball. He'll continue to develop, but he provides a presence and possible answer at an important position.

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Take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Indianapolis Colts during Week 16.

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